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Penticton emergency shelter to remain open as province overrides city council

On Wednesday, B.C. housing minister David Eby said the province is going to override Penticton’s decision by keeping the shelter open for the time being. Global News

The provincial government has stepped into the fray between Penticton city council and BC Housing  — and it’s not siding with local councillors.

On Tuesday, city council unanimously denied a request from BC Housing to reconsider its earlier decision to deny a year-long extension to a controversial winter shelter in downtown Penticton, a 42-bed site on Winnipeg Street.

Almost 24 hours later, B.C.’s Minister of Housing weighed in, stating the province is going to override Penticton’s decision by keeping the shelter open for the time being.

Read more: Penticton city council says no, again, to BC Housing emergency shelter request

“I am advised that Penticton city council again turned down BC Housing’s request to continue operating an emergency shelter in that community,” B.C. housing minister David Eby said in a media statement on Wednesday afternoon.

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“There is no other housing option for the very vulnerable people that live in this shelter, something that was known to council when they voted to close it.”

Eby continued, saying, “I am disappointed by this decision not just for the lack of concern council demonstrated for the lives and dignity of 42 sick, disabled and vulnerable residents of Penticton that have nowhere else to go, but also for the clear message it sends that the city will not work with the province to address the challenging and growing problem of homelessness in Penticton.

“As underwhelming as it is, the message sent by council to the province has been received. After March 31, the province will operate the shelter under our provincial paramountcy authority authorized by the Interpretation Act. Out of necessity, we will also reluctantly move forward without Penticton’s municipal government in order to address homelessness in that community and avoid future encampments.”

Click to play video: 'B.C. housing minister wants winter shelter in Penticton kept open' B.C. housing minister wants winter shelter in Penticton kept open
B.C. housing minister wants winter shelter in Penticton kept open – Mar 11, 2021

Lastly in his statement, Eby said, “I hope that in the weeks and months ahead, Penticton’s council will reconsider their approach. If they do, we are always ready and willing to work with them. I firmly believe that although it is often more challenging than going it alone, provinces and cities produce better results when we work together.”

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Global News has reached out to the City of Penticton for comment.

During a teleconference with the media, Eby said he watched Penticton’s council meeting. He also called the government’s decision “non-negotiable” in turning people out of the shelter and into the park.

Click to play video: 'Extended interview with Penticton Mayor John Vassilaki about homeless shelter dispute with the province' Extended interview with Penticton Mayor John Vassilaki about homeless shelter dispute with the province
Extended interview with Penticton Mayor John Vassilaki about homeless shelter dispute with the province – Mar 3, 2021

“Our goal is to move as quickly as possible to get adequate housing options in place in Penticton to be able to stop using this shelter,” said Eby, “which everyone agrees was intended to be a temporary shelter.

“We have some work ahead of us, and BC Housing will work as quickly as they can. Our job is made a little bit more challenging by the decision of council, but we do believe that we will be able to get everybody out of that shelter within a year if we’re successful in our efforts.”

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Eby was also asked if he predicts Penticton will legally challenge B.C.’s decision to override city council.

“I am concerned because our authority under the Interpretation Act relies on the project being deemed by a court on review to be a provincial project,” said Eby.

“I am concerned about the fact that we don’t own the site and we’re not directly operating the site. But I do understand from our team that we are on firm legal ground.

“But anytime something is challenged, it goes to a court where you don’t have the exact set of facts you had hoped for, there is a risk. And so we’re preparing for worst-case scenarios where the use of the shelter is, in fact,  challenged in court either by a neighbour or Penticton council themselves, and they are successful in that challenge — which lends some urgency to our need to develop the supportive housing in Penticton.”

Click to play video: 'B.C. premier calls public feud ‘part of democracy’' B.C. premier calls public feud ‘part of democracy’
B.C. premier calls public feud ‘part of democracy’ – Mar 6, 2021

Eby was also asked if the province overriding local elected officials erodes voter trust, he said yes.

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“I’m absolutely concerned that decision erodes trust in government, both at the local level and the provincial level,” he said.

“I’ll be blunt. People across the province wonder why Penticton would be turning out 40-plus people living in a homeless shelter into a local park, especially seeing what’s happening in Victoria and Vancouver and Nanaimo, and I could go on in terms of my list of cities experiencing encampments.

“So it’s a mystery to most of us, the approach that council is taking. I’m sure that is eroding some confidence. I have no doubt that when the province uses authorities like this, people in local communities, including Penticton, look at that with concern, and rightly so.

“This is a tool of last resort. It is not my preference. But I dislike it less than an encampment forming in Penticton. And I dislike it less than vulnerable people being turned out of a shelter to the streets.

“I don’t pretend that this is a good option, I don’t pretend this is my preferred option, it’s not. But it is, frankly, the only option that I see to ensure that the residents of Penticton are not greeted with broader, social and disorder problems associated with encampments, and an almost doubling of the street population overnight.”

Click to play video: 'War of words over homeless shelter in Penticton' War of words over homeless shelter in Penticton
War of words over homeless shelter in Penticton – Mar 3, 2021

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